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Norway’s Liberation Day

Norwegian flag on Stortinget in Oslo

The 8th of May is Liberation Day, marking the end of Norway’s occupation during World War II. We take a look back at what happened, and how the day is marked today.

Liberation Day, known in Norwegian as Frigjøringsdagen, is marked every year in Norway on the 8th of May. It also serves as Norway's Veterans Day.

The day is also celebrated in other countries as the effective end of the war. It is known in the UK as Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day. In Russia, the day is marked on 9 May, due to the time difference.

It marks the anniversary of 8 May 1945, when Nazi Germany forces withdrew from Norway and World War II came to an end. The occupation had begun on 9 April 1940, so Norway had been occupied for more than five years.

The end of occupation

On that day in 1945, the people of Norway took to the streets to celebrate their long-awaited freedom. In the following days, soldiers and POWs returned home, and the celebrations continued.

Following the surrender of National Socialist Germany, German forces in Norway were sent back to Germany. The Allies feared that the German army in Norway would refuse to capitulate. At the time, the thought that Germany would voluntarily give up control of Norway, which they had heavily fortified and stationed hundreds of thousands of soldiers, was by no means a given. But the commander-in-chief in Norway received an order from the new national president, Karl Dönitz.

The celebrations reached their peak when King Haakon returned home to Oslo on the 7th of June. It was an iconic moment in Norwegian history. So much so, Jo Nesbø references the incident as an important moment in his Harry Hole novel, The Redbreast.

Norwegian flags outside a house on the 17th of May

One of Norway’s flag days

While not a public holiday, Liberation Day is an official flag day. You can expect to see the Norwegian flag flying high on all public buildings and from many private houses and apartment balconies.

The first time the day became a flag day was in 1960, when the government decided to mark the 15th anniversary of the end of the war. That same year, a poll showed overwhelming support amongst the population for a permanent flag day. The 8th of May was then adopted as a flag day by royal decree in 1962.

Norway's Royals play an important role

The day is also marked with speeches and events throughout the country. The Norwegian Royal Family has a long tradition of participation in such events. Of course, this year's events cannot take place as normal because of the coronavirus restrictions. But that won't stop many people marking the occasion privately.

Two years ago, King Harald took part in a ceremony to mark the occasion at Akershus fortress in Oslo. The Parliament's President, the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister also took participated.

The King handed out ten medals to people in honour of their military service at a special ceremony during the afternoon, following a church service and laying of a wreath. After the King arrived, a column of Norwegian fighters flew over the fortress in formation.

Aviation war museum in Bodø
Aviation war museum in Bodø

The resistance movement

While conventional armed resistance to the occupation ended after just a couple of months, an underground resistance movement operated throughout the occupation period.

The resistance took the form of military defence and counter-attacks, in part to allow the legitimate government of Norway to evade capture and escape to London. There was also armed resistance and famous acts of sabotage, most notably the Heavy Water War that played out in Telemark.

In Oslo on the grounds of Akershus Fortress, Norway's Resistance Museum focuses on this period. Also known as the Norwegian Home Front Museum, the museum displays equipment, photos and documents from the war years.

Read more: The History of Norway in World War II

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

3 Comments

  1. In the Summer of 1944 my mother, then 9 years old, was evacuated from Bergen by the Red Cross and sent to live on a small farm, with strangers, above Etne. She remembers the day when they saw the Norwegian flag flying down in the valley. It could only have meant one thing.

  2. The Museum of Post War Reconstruction in Hammarfest tells of events after WWII in Finnmark and Northern Troms: the liberation of Eastern Finnmark, the scorched earth policy, forced evacuation and reconstructiion after the war. Very .hard times

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